Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 9/24/2022
Everyone responds to trauma differently. Some people are able to process it and move on, while others notice lasting effects. Case in point? Anxiety from trauma. And because anxiety can have a major impact on your quality of life, it is important to deal with it.
Trauma is defined as exposure to life-threatening circumstances, serious injury or sexual violence. These things can occur directly or be something you witness.
You may also experience the effects if you discover a close loved one has gone through one of these things.
Examples of traumatic experiences include surviving a natural disaster, serving in the military, being assaulted and more.
Naturally, it’s easy to see how someone could face lasting anxiety if they’ve experienced something like a tornado or live combat. But there are effective ways to cope.
As mentioned above, everyone is affected by trauma in different ways. It’s not uncommon to experience anxiety as a result of traumatic events.
In fact, there’s even an anxiety disorder closely associated with trauma. While anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder can happen for any reason (or for no reason at all!), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is very much linked to trauma.
PTSD is the result of living through a scary or dangerous event. It’s common to experience short-term symptoms of trauma, but if those symptoms last, it may be considered PTSD.
Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men — in fact, they are two to three times more likely to have it according to some research.
Symptoms of PTSD include:
Re-experiencing the trauma (like having flashbacks or bad dreams)
Avoiding places or people that remind you of the trauma
Angry or emotional outbursts
Difficulty remembering the trauma
Feelings of guilt
If you experience the symptoms above for more than a month, a mental health professional may diagnose you with PTSD.
Often, before PTSD develops, a person gets acute stress disorder (ASD). This disorder develops within four weeks of a traumatic event.
Research has found that within one month of a traumatic event, between six percent and 33 percent of people develop ASD.
Interestingly, the type of traumatic experience may factor into who develops it. Survivors of natural disasters are less likely to experience ASD, while people who experience violence seem to have a higher chance of it.
Beyond PTSD, general anxiety can be a response to trauma. This can manifest in a variety of ways — including feelings of being nervous or overwhelmed, and experiencing panic attacks. Some people also find that they avoid social situations.
When it comes to treating anxiety caused by trauma, you may need to focus on working through the trauma itself.
It is best to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the best treatment plan for you. Often, your provider will recommend therapy or medication (or a combo of both).
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a promising method in the treatment of anxiety — and, specifically, PTSD.
In this type of therapy, you will work to identify negative thought patterns and behaviors and work with a therapy professional to figure out ways to change or modify them for more positive outcomes.
While many therapy professionals are trained in general CBT, there are two other types of CBT that may be helpful if you’re navigating anxiety caused by trauma. They are:
Exposure Therapy: You’ll work with a professional to gently expose yourself to your traumatic triggers in safe and controlled environments. You may be asked to recount your trauma or visit the place you associate it with.
Cognitive Restructuring: It’s not uncommon to remember your trauma a little differently than it happened — or to not remember parts of it at all. In cognitive restructuring, you’ll work with a trained professional to restructure your memory of your trauma by looking at the facts. Ultimately, the goal here is to help you gain needed perspective on a traumatic experience so that you can move forward from it in healthy and productive ways.
Another type of therapy used for PTSD is called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).
With EMDR, you’ll focus on the trauma while simultaneously engaging in bilateral stimulation (commonly eye movements or knee tapping). It is thought that this can lower the emotional response to traumatic memories.
Along with therapy, anti-anxiety medication can help you get a grip on anxiety caused by trauma.
There are a number of medications that can be prescribed for anxiety. They include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), beta-blockers and benzodiazepines. One thing to know: medication won’t “cure” anxiety. However, it may help manage the symptoms that come with it.
When it comes to treating PTSD, medications often prescribed include sertraline, paroxetine, fluoxetine, venlafaxine.
Going through a traumatic event can have a lot of repercussions in your daily life. Stressful events that would fall under the category of trauma-include surviving a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, physical abuse, sexual abuse or military service.
The result of this trauma is that it can lead to anxiety. Some people may notice they feel general anxiety, while others may develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
Thankfully, you can address trauma-induced anxiety through medication or therapy — or both.
If you’d like to explore ways to treat your anxiety, you can schedule an online consultation now.